Hadlow, Janice. The Other Bennet Sister. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2020.
eBook | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250129437 | 480 pages | Historical Fiction
Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.
What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.
Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.
Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
I’ve always felt some kinship with Mary Bennet as the sister with the least prospects in Pride and Prejudice, and have always found myself disappointed with the overall execution of the stories, even though they do interesting things with her character. The Other Bennet Sister, sadly, was another such disappointment.
Mary’s character is still probably the best part of the book. I enjoyed seeing the first part of P&P from her perspective to start off, providing context to the situation the Bennet family’s financial uncertainty. I also like how, even though Hadlow is yet another author who doesn’t fully deliver on it, she entertains the idea that Mary saw Mr. Collins as a suitable match in a practical sense, as well as their sharing similar interests, which makes a good jumping-off point for her to compare to as she begins to come into her own and actually experience love.
But this book was so long, and it felt tedious at times. I appreciate it objectively from an artistic standpoint, as it highlights the journey Mary goes on perfectly, but there was so much of it that was so boring, I ended up skimming in hopes of getting it over with. And I don’t know that I fully felt engrossed by Hadlow’s style either, as it failed to fully engross me.
This was kind of just ok, but I think this of one of the better books about Mary Bennet I’ve read. I think if you love Austen, it’;s wotth a try, to see if you love it more than I do.
Janice Hadlow worked at the BBC for more than two decades, an for ten of those years she ran BBC Two and BBC Four, two of the broadcaster’s major television channels. She was educated at Swanley School in Kent and graduated with a first-class degree in history from King’s College London. She is the author of A Royal Experiment, a biography of Great Britain’s King George III. She currently lives in Edinburgh. The Other Bennet Sister is her first novel.
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